ENGL 1010- Sec 002
Undocumented Immigration Deserves a Closer Look
Immigration is undoubtedly a primary subject at the peak of contemporary American political controversies. The topic of immigration, especially when it concerns those who have come to America illegally, is so prevalent in American society due to a number of factors: President Trump and his follower’s voicing of the issue of illegal immigration and proposed solutions, such as the infamous “Wall”, the large amount of undocumented people working in and contributing to the nation’s economy, and the seemingly constant war between undocumented people and families and agencies such as ICE (the United States’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
A common opinion or stance on illegal immigration is that it is a crime, or at least a civil offense, no matter which way you cut it. If a person or group would like access into America’s borders and they are not already American citizens, they should do so legally by applying for visas, citizenship, traveling with a passport, or be considered a refugee fleeing from oppression and in need of asylum. While it is factual that undocumented immigration or staying in America past the expiration date of a visa is not legal, one should consider the context and reasons as to why a person or their family is actively or unknowingly breaking the law.
Condemning an individual of being undocumented and promptly deporting them to wherever it is that they came from throws out all the details that legitimize their trespassing onto American soil and is a despicable solution to a problem specifically regarding the lives of human beings. Undocumented immigration can be both understandable and justified in numerous ways, and current American legislation tosses context aside when it comes to punishing illegal individuals; a change of current laws or introduction of new ones are needed to address illegal migration humanely.
Reasons for Immigration
America prides itself on the ‘land of the free and home of the brave.’ This notion comes from the fact that America is built around immigration as the majority of Americans can trace their ancestry to other regions of the world. Nonetheless, America has continued to welcome immigrants from different parts of the world who want to escape economic hardships, and political, ethnic, and religious persecution. Usually, the immigrants fleeing various forms of persecution in their home countries enter the United States legally and are able o work and live freely like other Americans. However, the economic immigrants fall into two categories; those that enter the United States legally, and those who enter the United States through undocumented border crossings without any permission. As a result, both documented and undocumented immigrants end up living in America albeit with differing legal status and protection.
Undocumented immigrants form a substantial percentage of all immigrants in the United States. Falling into the category of undocumented immigrants occurs in two ways. First, there are immigrants who arrive in America legally. However, when it gets to the time when they are required to leave they don’t leave (Yee et al.). As such, they fall into the undocumented immigrant category. These immigrants arrive in the United States with various visas including student and tourist visas. However, they don’t return to their countries of origins at the expiry of their visas. Secondly, there are the undocumented immigrants that do not possess the permission to enter the United States but still find a way to get through the borders. As such, these undocumented immigrants are a product of human trafficking rings that specialize in getting people across the American border for a fee. However, this group of immigrants is also the most vulnerable to mistreatment by the traffickers.
Depending on how they find themselves under the category of undocumented immigrants, the two groups differ in locations of origin, educational qualifications, and even financial backgrounds. While the group of undocumented immigrants that find itself overstaying their visas usually come from countries that are far from the United States, those jumping borders are from nearby countries and as such can make overland journeys across the United States border. For instance, most undocumented immigrants who jump the American border are from Central American countries and Mexico (Yee et al.). Their proximity to Mexico makes it easy to approach the American border overland. However, those overstaying their visas are usually from other countries including developing countries who after visiting Ame3rica do not want to return to their countries.
Although the two groups are classified as undocumented immigrants, the characteristics of either group are usually different. The undocumented immigrants who overstay their visas are usually highly educated. For instance, to qualify for a student visa for either undergraduate or graduate studies in the United States, the foreign students must meet some minimum education qualifications. Besides, they must provide proof of their ability to meet the financial obligations of the course they intent to study once they are admitted. As such, this group of undocumented immigrants is usually not from a poor background and is driven by other factors to stay on. Mostly, the reasons for overstaying the conditions of their visas range from freedom of expression to economic opportunities available in America with their skills.
Similarly, the undocumented immigrants who breach the conditions of their tourist visas are also not from a poor background. To be granted a tourist visa, an applicant must demonstrate their ability to finance their trip through proof of financial capabilities. In addition, they must also show that they have a connection with their home country that would make them return after visiting the United States. As a result, this group of undocumented immigrants is not driven by economic factors to remain in America.
Apart from tourist, there are undocumented immigrants who come to America to attend conferences and sports competition but do not return to their countries of origin. For instance, teenagers from Burundi attending an international robotics competition disappeared from Washington, D.C. at the end of the completion (Bendix). This disappearance was intentional, and the teens have as such become undocumented immigrants. Although their whereabouts are unknown, it can only be speculated that they did not want to return to their countries due to the political situation there. However, this is not the first instance or the last where people from other countries become undocumented immigrants by breaking their visa requirements.
Apart from undocumented immigrants breaking their legal status by overstaying in America, the majority of undocumented immigrants enter the United States through illegal border crossings. These immigrants can be categorized into economic immigrants and those escaping persecution for different reasons.
Political ideology differences between Cuba and the United States led to many years of crippling sanctions against Fidel Castrol’s regime. However, the Cuban authorities did not take kindly to any political opinion that was deviated from the state-sanctioned ideals. As such, due to its geographical closeness to Cuba, America became the closest sanctuary for those fleeing persecution for political reasons from Cuba. However, many of the Cuban immigrants did not come into the country legally are remain as undocumented immigrants. As a result, Cuba remains one of the biggest sources of undocumented immigrants of political conscience.
Many countries in Central America are experiencing many social problems as a result of poverty. Among these are the problems brought about by the proliferation of illegal street gangs. Among the countries experiencing some of the worst gang problems is El Salvador with the MS13 gang. The MS 13 gang is notorious for forceful recruitment of people into its ranks. In addition, it is also known for its brutality against those perceived to be its enemies. Although the MS13 gang has its origins in Los Angeles in the United States, the American policy of deporting gang members back to El Salvador has seen it establish roots in that country and grow into neighboring countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and even Mexico. As a result of its viciousness, the gang has forced many people to flee these countries ironically to America.
However, apart from persecution of whatever kind, majority of all undocumented immigrants come to the United States for economic reasons. They are looking for the promise of a better life that the American dream is all about. As such, they are willing to take the risk of being undocumented in the hope that they can make a better life for themselves and their families while hoping that someday they will legalize their stay.
Consequences of Being Undocumented Immigrant
As an undocumented immigrant, a person loses legal protection since they lack legal status. As a result, many undocumented immigrants face many challenges as they try to navigate the economic ecosystem without any legal protection. For instance, due to their status, undocumented immigrants are paid less for the same amount of labor as the legal immigrants. This discrepancy in wage is occasioned by the fact that the payments happen under the table and the undocumented immigrant cannot seek legal redress for fear of being deported.
Because the Mexican/U.S border is the primary entry point for many overland undocumented immigrants, they are vulnerable crimes by traffickers known as Coyotes. These traffickers are supposed to assist the immigrants to cross the borders for a fee, but sometimes they end up robbing and leaving the immigrants in the desert. In addition, they have also been known to hold other immigrants and demand money from their families. These incidences of kidnapping add to an already bad situation since most of the undocumented immigrants are poor to start with or have sold everything to try and make it across the border to America.
Apart from the risk of being robbed or kidnapped for ransom, female undocumented immigrants face an additional risk of being sexually abused. They are at risk of sexual abuse by the ‘coyotes’ during their journey, and if they eventually make it to America, they risk being abused by employers. The fear of deportation is enough motivation for silence against such abuses especially when they are perpetrated by American citizens. As such, they suffer in silence without any hope for redress.
Apart from sexual exploitation by individuals, undocumented immigrants are at risk of ending up in prostitution rings against their will. Young female immigrants are forced to prostitute to pay for debts accruing from their journey to America facilitated by human trafficking rings. Mostly, the undocumented immigrant is threatened with being turned over to the authorities while the exact amount of money they owe is kept a secret. This ensures that they are worked for as long as possible.
Other immigrants find themselves in a life of crime due to the hardships they face. Once an undocumented immigrant is convicted of a crime, they serve time in jail and at the end of their sentence, they are deported back to their countries of origin. However, in some cases, their countries of origin do not want them back and they are caught up in a legal limbo where they are not wanted where they came from and America doesn’t want them either.
Economic Contribution to American Economy
Although they are taken advantage of in wages, undocumented immigrants have become part and parcel of the American economic fabric. Taking up most of the jobs that Americans don’t want to perform, they have kept the economy going. They contribute positively by spending on food, housing, energy, and other aspects that require spending. In addition, due to their legal status, they accept lower paying jobs which translate to c competitively priced products if they are in manufacturing. As a result, more Americans can afford these products thus fuelling internal consumption of American made goods.
Although it is difficult to say for certain, undocumented immigrants contribute to the American economy by paying taxes. Through sales taxes, undocumented immigrants pay local and state taxes. According to Gee et al. (1), undocumented immigrants paid 11.64 billion dollars in State and local taxes throughout America in 2016. In addition, it is estimated that they paid approximately 1.1 billion in income tax. As a result, undocumented immigrants contributed positively to the American economy.
Apart from contributing to the growth of the American economy, undocumented immigrants have been accused of having a negative effect on the economy. For instance, they have been accused of affecting wages negatively by keeping them relatively low. As a result, most Americans claim that wages have stagnated while the cost of living has gone up. Apart from wages, the undocumented immigrants have also been accused of taking jobs from Americans. However, this assertion does not necessarily hold water since most of the jobs taken by undocumented immigrants are jobs that Americans don’t want to begin with because they view them as menial or dirty.
In conclusion, the issue of undocumented immigrants cannot be solved by building physical barriers. The process of legalizing their stay should be clear and concise as long as they have not been involved in criminal activities. However, to stem the flow of undocumented immigrants, America should play its ‘big brother’ role more robustly by helping the source countries deal with the reasons that push their citizens chose to leave. However, the undocumented immigrants already in America should be accorded an opportunity to formalize their stay in a manner that does not jeopardize the well being of American citizens in any way.
Bendix, Aria. “Burundi Robotics Team Goes Missing.” The Atlantic, 20 July 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2017/07/six-teens-from-a-burundi-robotics-team-have-gone-missing/534435/. Accessed 9 December 2017
Gee, Lisa Christensen et al. “Undocumented Immigrants’ State & Local Tax Contributions.” The Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, 2017,
http://Undocumented Immigrants’ State & Local Tax Contributions.
Yee, Vivian et al. “Here’s the Reality about Illegal Immigrants in the United States.” The New York Times, 6 March 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/03/06/us/politics/undocumented-illegal-immigrants.html. Accessed 9 December 2017
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